What you need to know:
- State Minister for Primary Healthcare says government is focusing on vaccination to allow the reopening of the economy.
The State Minister for Primary Healthcare, Ms Margaret Muhanga, has said Uganda is not considering imposing a travel ban on Southern Africa countries because of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.
Many countries from the Global North, including the European Union and the United States of America, have slapped travel bans or placed distinct restrictions on passengers from more than six Southern Africa countries because of the Omicron variant, according to media reports.
The affected countries include Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Eswatini.
Ms Muhanga told Daily Monitor that the restrictions are a “xenophobia” against Africa that must stop.
“The [Omicron] variant is even already in Europe and America. Closing [Southern Africa countries] out is equivalent to doing nothing. Even today, the rate at which Covid-19 is spreading around Europe is more than South Africa,” she said.
Data from the reference website Worldometer indicates that on Saturday, South Africa registered eight new deaths and 3,220 new infections. Germany on the other hand had 170 new deaths and 49,000 new cases in the same period. It is hardly an anomaly in Europe as the continent is grappling with a deadly wave of the pandemic. Experts have attributed the wave to the cold winter season, low adherence to preventive measures and inadequate vaccination.
Omicron variant has also been detected in Botswana, Israel, Hong Kong, Germany, Italy, and Belgium, among other countries, according to information from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Ms Muhanga added that the key goal for government remains working towards fully reopening the economy.
“If [the coronavirus] keeps mutating and bringing new variants, for how long shall we be closing? People should go and get vaccinated and we reopen the economy as directed by the President,” she said.
Ms Muhanga said government scientists are locked in discussions about the Omicron variant and surveillance is ongoing to determine if it is already here.
Dr Samuel Oledo, the president of Uganda Medical Association, however, said it is prudent to slap a travel ban on Southern Africa countries with immediate effect to save Ugandans from the third wave of the pandemic.
“The [Omicron variant] that people are taking for granted is horrible,” he told Daily Monitor in an interview yesterday.
According to information from WHO, the Omicron variant presents increased risk of reinfection. Its actual impact on vaccine effectiveness and whether it causes more severe disease are yet to be determined.
Dr Richard Lessells, a South Africa-based infectious disease expert, expressed frustration at travel bans, telling Reuters that the focus should be on getting more people vaccinated in places that have struggled to access sufficient shots.
“This is why we talked about the risk of vaccine apartheid. This virus can evolve in the absence of adequate levels of vaccination,” he said.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general, said in a tweet last Friday: “[Omicron] has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning.”
He added that this new development highlights the need to speed up efforts to deliver on vaccine equity.
Additional reporting from Agencies